When you think of a workplace accident, you probably think of something medical: cuts, sprains, etc. But some workplace accidents also involve your teeth, mouth or jaws and may require dental attention.
To some extent, a dental injury sustained in the workplace is similar to any other dental injury, but there are a few differences. For example, if your regular dentist does not participate as a provider in the Worker’s Comp program, you may need to find a dentist, such as myself, who does.
Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may be transported to a hospital to have your medical issues treated first. Most hospitals are not equipped to deal with dental injuries. If you suspect a dental problem, have the hospital staff document your dental condition. Your future dental treatment will move more quickly if your dentist does not have to ask Worker’s Comp to allow an additional condition.
As with any accident, some problems show up quickly while others may show up days, weeks, months or even years later. The most common injury is a chipped or broken tooth. Other possible problems are loose teeth, knocked-out teeth, and TemporoMandibular Joint (TMJ) symptoms.
Chips on teeth range from small areas to the entire top part of your tooth being broken off at or below your gumline. Even small chips can be painful or unsightly and lead to tooth decay. Small breaks can often be treated with a tooth colored filling. Crowns or veneers are also a possibility if the damage to your tooth is extensive.
Very large chips that expose the nerve require a root canal to keep your tooth. Even when a root canal is not indicated right away, it is possible that you will need one in the future due to the trauma to your tooth.
A loose tooth may mean that your tooth’s root has broken in an area that you can’t see or it could just be a result of trauma. Looseness ranges from very slight to noticing your tooth is no longer in the right place. Your dentist can determine if your loose tooth is the result of trauma from the accident or a broken root. Even if your root is not fractured, loose teeth are often painful and make it hard to eat.
If your tooth is out of place, visit a dentist as soon as possible. If you are at the hospital, see if they have an oral surgeon who could put your tooth back in the correct place. (You will still need to see your dentist to have your tooth evaluated.) You may need root canal treatment or tooth removal for a broken root. Otherwise, your tooth may be temporarily bonded to the teeth next to it to strengthen it. If multiple teeth are involved or if your bite feels like it has shifted you might need braces to move them back to the proper place.
If your entire tooth (including root) is knocked out, pick up the tooth by the part you’d see in your mouth when you smile. Try not to touch the root portion and do not clean the tooth. If possible, put the tooth back into the socket in your mouth. If you cannot put it back, place the tooth in Sav-A-Tooth container (if available), or into cold milk. Time is of the essence if you want to try to save your natural tooth, so ask for an oral surgeon at the hospital or go to a dentist or oral surgeon right away.
Though teeth injuries are more common, your jaw can also be hurt in an accident. If you experience pain or difficulty opening your mouth after a trauma, you should be checked to make sure you do not have a broken jaw. If there is not a fracture, you may have TMJ/TMD. If the pain is mild, take anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen), rest your mouth as much as possible, and eat soft foods that don’t require much chewing. Sometimes the symptoms of TMJ will go away without additional treatment. If not, your dentist may make you an occlusal guard appliance. Other treatment options include physical therapy for your jaw or professional massage of your TMJ.
Many of these treatment principles apply no matter how your dental injury occurs. However, if your injury occurs in your workplace or is related to your job, there are a few extra steps to take to make sure Worker’s Comp will cover needed care. Since many more workplace injuries are medical rather than dental, it can be hard to find a dental office that is familiar with Worker’s Comp. If you are having trouble finding an office to help you with your dental injury, we invite you to call Dr. Jennifer Robb at 440-960-1940.